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Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991

February 16, 2022
by the gentle author

Thanks to everyone who contributed yesterday to help me launch a COMMUNITY TOURISM PROJECT in Spitalfields as a BETTER ALTERNATIVE to the serial killer tours that monetise misogyny. Please help by spreading the word to your family, friends and workmates.




Map of The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields designed by Adam Dant


It is my pleasure to publish this gallery of portraits of Spitalfields Market traders chosen from more than three thousand photographs taken by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies in the last year of the Fruit & Vegetable Market in Spitalfields in 1991.

When Mark and Huw arrived at the market, they often separated to pursue different lines of inquiry, convened regularly through the night to compare results. Huw, the more more experienced photographer of the two, might set up the ambitious wide shots of the market and wait for figures to walk into the frame, while Mark, who did not even know how to load a camera at first, would chat with traders and snap portraits. And thus their different qualities complemented each other, so that today the body of pictures detailing the life of market exists as a totality in which the work of each photographer cannot be disentangled from the other.

All these portraits were the result of conversations as the photographers came to know their subjects. Always, conversation came first and once both parties were comfortable, the pictures were taken. As the traders came to appreciate the project, more were keen to have their portraits done, waving the photographers over and demanding a picture. It was an event that grew more frequent as the closure approached, and those who had spent their working lives there were desirous of being photographed in their market. They wanted their existence recorded along with their fellows.

There was a rigor imposed upon the endeavour by the cost of the film and the limitation of the budget, giving value to every single frame. At first, Mark & Huw bought cheap second hand cameras that broke and then they saved for months to buy new Nikon cameras and lenses, including a precious 35mm lens for portraits which they shared between them. And, to save money they bought great rolls of film and wound it into their cameras, but it quite often got damaged by fingerprints in the process.

Then, each weekend when the market was closed, Mark & Huw filled the bath in their tiny flat with smelly chemicals mixed up from powder and developed the week’s films, hanging them with clothes pegs on strings to dry – and sometimes the mix of the developer was wrong and the pictures came out too dark. Yet in spite of all these limitations, and the resultant pitfalls and mishaps, Mark & Huw were able to produce the splendid, emotionally-charged portraits which you see here and, thanks to them, we are able to meet the Spitalfields Market traders of 1991 face to face.




Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies

You can see the original selection of

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market

and read about

Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991

The Return of Mark Jackson

8 Responses leave one →
  1. February 16, 2022

    When you read the backstory about how the photos were taken, you are even more impressed by the “real guys” of Spitalfields Market. Beautiful insights!

    Love & Peace

  2. Sue permalink
    February 16, 2022

    Fantastic photographs.

  3. keithb permalink
    February 16, 2022

    5 litres of ID11 mixed from powder and diluted 1:3. Acetic acid stop bath and Hypam fixer. Not in the bath, I had a changing bag and a 4 reel developing tank. Good times (I didn’t produce anything as grounded as this excellent project though it has to be said).

  4. paul loften permalink
    February 16, 2022

    These photos are worth a butchers !

  5. David P B Feder permalink
    February 16, 2022

    My Uncle Ron Driver (of blessed memory), a born-and-bred East Ender, was a fruit broker at Spitalfields. When I visited England, he took me there a few times, explaining the history, the slang, the processes. It was nothing less than thrilling. It was sad to see the Old Spitalfields go. And Uncle Ron is long gone as well. Thanks for bringing both back to life with this story and these photos. Please follow up sometime with the earliest photos available of Old Spitalfields Market.

  6. aubrey permalink
    February 16, 2022

    Photo 1944. Monopoly within the market. Oh yeah!

  7. NoOneYouKnow permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Fantastic pics.

  8. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 17, 2022

    A thousand stories in those faces

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